Rain or shine, summer or winter – the French market is simply a way of life. A lifestyle I truly believe that more and more people are looking for as an antidote to the fast-paced hectic world we live in. And although France can offer just that, don’t be fooled by the idealised version seen through rose-tinted glasses.
There are pros and cons to life here. There are things I love and things that can be a real bore. If you want to live a simpler more down to earth lifestyle, it is a great place to be, and perhaps it really is easier to follow this way of living here than in other parts of the world. But that’s something to discuss in length in another post. For now here are a few of the ups and downs of life in France.
I love the markets and how our diets are so in tune to what is in season. A French market is both fast paced and incredibly slow at the same time. It’s busy and bustling but each customer is allowed to talk, to discuss what might be best for their preferred recipe, to choose exactly what will be ripe and when; each purchase is allowed as much time as needed, no matter how long the queue of people waiting in line.
A prime example of French life is the boulangerie. Fresh bread without preservatives, made with no more than four or five simple ingredients, does not normally keep for more than a few hours, let alone a day. For many a trip to the local bakery is a routine not to be missed.
But this daily way of life is under threat from the big supermarkets and make no mistake – the French do shop in them, and yes, the French do buy fast food and ready meals too. Like so many places in the world the large hypermarkets have forced the closure of many village stores and local shops who simply cannot compete with the prices. But this in turn gives us a good reason to support our local village Sunday market, our boulangerie and even our small post-office. Because it would be a tragedy if they disappeared, not just for us but for the entire community; the elderly depend on them, and like most good things in a village community they continue to offer a way of life that can act as an education for our children.
France is a good-sized country with a relatively low population density and this means we can be driving up the hill towards the village after dark and see an owl swoop low over the car and off into the field beyond, and then later hear their hooting in the distance when we step outside into the garden. It means we can hear the constant tapping of our resident black woodpecker, and see the green flash of a kingfisher gliding along just above the water on a stream beside the road. But even here things are changing; the songbirds are disappearing, and the sparrows and other finches no longer visit in large flocks. Why? In many places modern farming methods have flattened the landscape into a monotone mass without hedgerows, their natural nesting habitat has been taken away, there is nothing for them to eat and they simply do not breed here any more.
However despite modernisation this is still a country where things happen at their own pace and rarely do things happen at the mere drop of a hat or the click of ones fingers. 24 hour delivery is possible at a very hefty price, sometimes. Same day is unheard of, certainly in rural parts. Lets take a classic example. Blocked drains. It’s been a long story.
Way back in the spring, we had to call out a company to sort out a huge blockage in the main drain from our house (living in a village we have mains drainage as opposed to the more common septic tank). The company’s enormous and very noisy vacuum-pipe lorry sorted it after a couple of hours, but the workman told us that we had very old terracotta pipes and their life cycle was probably very near the end. We groaned and decided to keep our fingers firmly crossed – just another of the sagas of living with a very old house.
Anyway, last Sunday one upstairs loo in our house blocked. Roddy tried to fix it without much luck. The outside drains were totally blocked and things quickly went downhill. All loos were now out of action in the entire house. The rain was hammering down, Roddy dressed himself in foul weather gear and set to work with drain rods, he worked endlessly, utterly drenched for several hours with no luck at all. I sent a desperate text to the company who had worked on the drains in May. I knew nothing would happen on a Sunday evening but I hoped at least it would mean they would see it first thing in the morning. They did, in fact they telephoned, but despite my plea of urgency they said they certainly couldn’t get out to us until the end of the afternoon and even that would mean cancelling an existing appointment and doing us a huge favour. I was suitably grateful of course.
Roddy was not to be put off. He went back to our local Farm store and bought another section of drain rods, he needed more length to get to the blockage and then he went into battle once more. I went off to tennis with our youngest daughter, at least at the club there are fully functioning bathrooms! At 5pm I received a text. Not from the drain company who still had not arrived but from my husband, who is extremely good with words, and this is exactly what I read, a smile slowly sweeping across my face which turned to laughter by the end.
“Go forth and take four talents of gold from our treasury and visit the streets of commerce to buy drink and victuals to prepare a feast of victory, for we have won the war and the Turds have fled the battlefield.
And even as I write this, my mighty majesty, our skirmishers are out on the plain, mopping up the wounded and injured, washing them away down into oblivion.
Rejoice, for history is ours, and your throne is finally restored to your majesty, for your personal, unsullied and scented use”.
So you see there are always two sides to every story. The dreamy romantic rural existence in France and the more realistic ‘how life really is in rural France’. We make do and we adapt, we work around problems. I actually believe it makes us more in tune with life, we take less for granted and we appreciate so much more. We accept, we complain, but we have no choice other than to get on with things and make the best of it. This my friends is our life in France, its not all a bed of sweet smelling roses. But would we change it, not at all!!